What people say and what people do are often very different things, but both are valuable to email marketers, especially when used together to paint a picture of the customer.
As brands strive to drive both relevance in their email marketing messages and engagement within their email subscriber universe, it is important that they have the data they need to make that happen. As you begin to align the data you have versus the data you need to drive that relevance, you may find that there are gaps.
The next natural questions then become: "What are the best ways to fill those gaps?" and "Do we use behavioral data, or do we ask our customers to provide it?"
In my experience, what people say and what people do are often very different things, but both are valuable, especially when used together to paint a picture of the customer.
For example, I am married with three kids aged eight and under. When asked to respond to a survey about my travel preferences, I inevitably respond in an aspirational way -- Tahitian Beach vacations are certainly my speed! But the reality is that my next vacation is likely to be largely focused around a theme park riddled with princesses and mouse ears.
Marrying the self-reported Tahitian desires and the theme park bound behavior can tell you a lot about me as a traveler. Though Tahiti may be on my bucket list, messaging to me about this (or similar destinations) is not likely to result in immediate conversion, but will provide a resource when I am ready to pull the trigger on a trip like that. Understanding my behavior, however, can help guide some follow up offers for theme park vacations as a natural vacationing progression.
What One Says
As I said earlier, what people say is often aspirational and that is an important fact to keep in mind, especially depending on the types of questions or information you are trying to collect. Not all information provided is accurate and valid. Some people will even provide fictitious or rarely used email addresses, if it is required to gain access to a piece of content or information that interests them.
If you are asking your customers to provide you with information about them, be prepared to use it. There is nothing worse than sharing information, only for brands to completely ignore it. For the customer, this creates distrust and lowers the odds that they will share any additional information with you.
What One Does
While behavior can provide interesting insights about your customers, it is imperative to remember that you may not be privy to all of the context that drives that behavior.
For example, on my last few flights I sat in the window seat. Based on that behavior, it may be assumed that I prefer to sit in the window seat... and that assumption would be wrong. There is context to that behavior -- if my flight is over four hours, I typically sit in the window seat so I have a place to rest my head; otherwise I prefer the aisle seat all day long!
When using behavioral information, it is critical to gather and analyze those behaviors over time to provide some context. What that "proper" time period is will depend greatly on the products or services you represent. Looking at behavioral data through a "day in the life" lens will help you to identify the contextual situations you need to consider.
As you consider gathering information about your customers to leverage in your programs, the most effective approach is to use a mix of both self-reported information and behaviorally driven insights. This will help you find the right voice and tone and deliver the most relevant content in conversations with each of your email subscribers.
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As an email marketing veteran dating back to 1999, Kara Trivunovic has been actively involved in programmatic email development, execution, and strategy in a variety of senior positions on the client, agency, and provider side. She was founder and principal of The Email Advisor, a respected email marketing consultancy focusing on email strategy and channel optimization that was subsequently acquired by an enterprise email service provider in 2009. Over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to work with a variety of brands and global organizations structuring a variety of custom email education programs, conceptualizing and implementing new and innovative email programs, optimizing contact strategies, and developing staffing and budget plans. Kara currently serves as the vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon.
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